The farther we drift away from the possibility of taking part in Champions League football next season, the more our league campaign seems to diminish in relevance.
Though billed as a final by Atlético players and the media alike ahead of the clash, the game in Vallecas had all the thrill and excitement of a pre-season friendly for most of the encounter.
But los Rojiblancos just managed to scrape by with a 1-0 derby victory over their depleted hosts, breathing fresh life into their hopes of finishing in the European spots of the table with only their third win on the road in La Liga.
Atleti remain in ninth in the standings but five of our six rivals for the so-called other Liga all dropped points over the weekend.
Regardless of Monday’s result between Getafe and Sevilla, we’ll enter the next round of matches six points out of fourth place and anywhere from one to three points away from the Europa League qualification zone.
But this week, los Colchoneros’ domestic aspirations will take a back seat to all the buzz and excitement that will be in the air ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final first-leg tie with Valencia at the Vicente Calderón.
Post-game notes and quotes:
Simeone warns of intense final stretch of La Liga
“It was a tough match in which Rayo started stronger in, especially in the first 15 minutes when they had us so pinned back,” Diego Simeone said in his analysis of our win during the post-game press conference.
“Then, after the half hour mark, we started creating better chances and even had opportunities to score. In the second half we played a good game and I think we could have even sealed the match before we scored the first goal.”
Asked if he thought sending Arda in for Salvio after an hour of play helped the team improve, Simeone candidly responded:
“Not right away, because the first four balls he touched he lost and Falcao’s goal came during that streak. But, after the goal, Arda gave us what we expected from him when we made the change: more ball control and possession.”
With five match days left, the league table is packed tight with clubs jockeying for position.
“The contest is very tough and a lot of us are at 45 points right now,” said ‘El Cholo’.
“No one can relax, not even those that are above of us. There are five games left that are going to be intense.”
Falcao reaches the 30 mark with his 22nd league goal
“Just like Athletic have Llorente, Valencia have Soldado, Madrid have Ronaldo and Barcelona have Messi, we have Falcao,” Cholo told reporters after the game.
‘El Tigre’s’ match winning strike in the 64th minute was his 22nd in Primera División and 30th overall in his first year in Spain. Falcao is now back in third place in the Liga scoring chart one ahead of Real Madrid’s Gonzalo Higuaín.
The Colombian has scored 50 per cent of our goals (22 of 44) in the domestic competition.
Speaking to Canal+ afterwards, the 25-year-old said:
“I’m happy that I’m able to help the team win with my goals. It pleases me that my output is of use to the club.”
Atlético director Clemente Villaverde caused alarm and distress within the ranks of the Rojiblanco faithful by telling Canal+ on Sunday:
“Falcao’s the best player we have, so we should enjoy him until the end of the season.”
The statement seems to indicate the former Porto man could be on his way out this summer, though we can hope Villaverde simply mispoke.
Courtois secures yet another shutout
Thibaut Courtois recovered from arguably his worst outing of the season at midweek when his net was hit with four goals to take home a well-deserved clean sheet on Sunday.
Though the 19-year-old wasn’t really under siege at any point by any stretch of the imagination, he did make one point blank spectacular save to deny a Tamudo header from very close range in the 29th minute.
The shut out was the Belgian goalkeeper’s 14th in La Liga and 22nd overall this year.
- Juanfran bagged his fourth assist of the season, though he was likely as surprised as anyone else that his routine pass to space was taken all the way home by Falcao.
- Atlético had never beaten Rayo in both the home and away fixtures in the same campaign until this season.
- The victory put a halt to our three-game losing streak away from the Calderón in league play.
- Our last away win prior to Sunday’s was back on the 30th of January at Osasuna.